Families' lives poisoned by crop spraying
and Government accused of risking the health of hundreds of thousands of
people living near farms
Sunday May 2, 2004
They left London
to raise a family in the rural serenity of Lincolnshire. Now they fear the
fields that surround their cottage are slowly killing them because of the
pesticides used to spray crops.
Within a month of being born last July, Adam Spencer stopped breathing
twice after farmland was sprayed. 'He suddenly turned purple. I noticed he
had breathing problems and then he went limp,' said his mother Helen.
Paramedics were baffled about why the once healthy 8lb 6oz baby's airways
had suddenly shut down.
On the first occasion she almost lost their son, every window in their
home had been removed for double-glazing. For hours, clouds of
acrid-tasting chemicals wafted through the property. Weeks later Adam
would almost die again after being caught in a cloud of chemicals at his
four-year-old sister's birthday party in the garden.
This week the Government will decide whether the laws on crop spraying
should be changed. At present, farmers are allowed repeatedly to spray
cocktails of chemicals right up to the windows of homes, schools and
offices. Nor do they have to inform residents when they use pes ticides
that could prove harmful, or even surrender information on which chemicals
have been used. Families insist only a sizeable buffer zone can protect
their homes. Pesticides can travel miles in the air, studies say.
More than a quarter of a million people live next to farmland regularly
sprayed with chemicals. Now the issue has become a bitter battleground
with a network of families ranged against the multi-billion pound
pesticides industry and the Government.
Hundreds of families believe they are victims of pesticide poisoning,
according to a database seen by The Observer. Complaints range from
headaches and acute lethargy to cancers, birth defects and miscarriage,
symptoms that experts maintain are compatible with chemical poisoning.
Cancer clusters in villages encircled by farmland feature time and time
again on the compilation of suspect sufferers. Helen - not her real name -
has three friends who have suffered miscarriages and knows four neighbours
Whether action will be taken is up to Rural Affairs Minister Alun
Michael following a 10-month investigation by the Government's Pesticides
Safety Directorate. Of the original 758 people consulted in the inquiry,
more than 700 were from chemical companies or organisations opposed to any
new restrictions on the use of toxic chemicals. Professor David Coggon,
head of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, even suggests that those who
think they experience adverse health effects from chemicals may be
Admitting the chemicals may be responsible for a cata logue of adverse
health complaints could leave the Government open to huge compensation
'The Government has continued to ignore the evidence of what is
happening in reality due to massive legal implications,' said singer
Georgina Downs, a leading anti-pesticide campaigner who was among the
first to link the chronic ill-health she and her family suffered with the
spraying of a field adjoining their Sussex garden.
Tests on the 31-year-old singer offer an insight into the cocktail of
chemicals ingested by those living in such areas. They found lindane and
DDT - both banned in the UK - as well as many other toxic residues in her
Despite such findings, the Government appears unimpressed. Scientists
advising Michael believe pesticides remain safe if used properly. A
parliamentary response from Michael last month insists all pesticides have
been proved to be harmless to humans and the environment.
In sharp contrast, it is a federal offence in the US to claim
pesticides are safe. And a new study by Canadian physicists showed
evidence linking pesticide exposure to cancers. Children were particularly
vulnerable, it warned.
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